Once-lers Anonymous

“It's not about what it is, it's about what it can become.” ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Flying Possum Legacy Lives On, Transforms

on November 5, 2011

The building at 526 West Dickson St. in Fayetteville looked like it had seen better days. The damaged and worn wooden shakes on the awning and bare brick face above look out of sync with the neighboring Mediterranean grill and sushi restaurant adorned with neon signs and bright white paint.

But now the space was starting to show new life; the glass has been replaced in the large front windows and quickly decorated with flyers for local concerts and events.

Yet two sheets of plywood covering the former doors, filled with messages written in black, silver, red or whatever color marker passerby had on hand, garner more attention than any of the bright flyers in the windows.

“Bruce, you will always be a true legend to Dickson,” one weathered inscription reads. Hundreds have stopped by the boarded door to write their condolences.

You "Left" but it will be all "Right"

“I miss you Bruce! Put in a good word for me!”

“Thanks for being a good friend!”

“RIP Bruce. I will miss you. Dickson will never be the same.”

After more than 34 years of housing Flying Possum Leather, an early morning fire on Monday, March 7, damaged the building and led to the death of owner and Dickson Street legend Bruce Walker. Emergency crews responding to the blaze found him on the store floor, his dog Bugsy staying close to his side.
“That was his family, Dickson Street and his dog,” said his older brother 64-year-old Bob Walker, who relocated to Fayetteville from Chico, Calif. following Bruce Walker’s death.

“I had hoped to continue the leather shop,” Bob Walker said. He had been in talks with one of Bruce Walker’s former employees, but the money wasn’t there to continue the venture.

“We didn’t really feel like Bruce would have wanted us to,” he said. “I think Dickson Street has been trying to leave Bruce behind for years.”

Next week, Bob Walker will find out if his next venture will become a reality: Flying Possum Saloon.

The bar would be open by January at the earliest, Bob Walker said.

“I’m probably a little older than most people in the bar business,” he said, but he has two younger and very creative people in mind to be his partners.

They hope to decorate the bar with lots of Bruce memorabilia that people would recognize, he said.

Bruce was known for his custom sandals styled like Birkenstocks, as well as his patented acoustic guitar strap used by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and many others.

Bob Walker also hopes to have a small dance floor in the Flying Possum Saloon, possibly offering free dance lessons at happy hour. He has been teaching all forms of dance from salsa to swing.

“I’d like to have space to clear out and put a dance floor,” he said, but it is more important that what they put in the space works.

*    *    *

“When he came to [visit me in] California, boy he was wide eyed,” said Bob Walker. In his late 20s at the time, Bob Walker worked as a custom shoe and boot maker in downtown Chico, Calif., and was the first vendor in Chico to sell Birkenstock sandals. “[He] thought what I was doing out there was cool. …He looked up to me.”

Bruce Walker got his first experience with leatherwork in Bob Walker’s shop in 1973. That was also the year he received his first pair of Birkenstocks, probably as a gift, Bob Walker said after a little though.

Bruce Walker returned to Searcy, their home town, and made his first few pairs of shoes.

“I’m not sure it was by design, but he found his way into the business,” Bob Walker said.

After moving to Northwest Arkansas in 1974, Bruce Walker worked at Blanchard Spring Cavarns outside of Mountain View as a tour guide for the U.S. Forest Service at the time. While walking down Dickson Street on a weekend visit to Fayetteville, he noticed a help wanted sign in the recently opened Nelson Leather Co.’s window.

“He walked in, said he made the shoes he was wearing, and they hired him on the spot,” Bob Walker said.

A year later, the owners of Nelson Leather Co. took advantage of an opening and moved their business to Eureka Springs. Bruce Walker leased the space and in 1975, the 35-year reign of Flying Possum Leather began.

When he first opened, half of the unit was split with a jewelry story. He leased the entire unit as soon as the jewelers moved out, despite the jump in rent to quadruple his former rate.

“He had already made up his mind that he was going to expand,” Bob Walker said, although times weren’t always easy for Bruce Walker financially. He was often “dancing to the right and dancing to the left” to maintain his finances, “but it never occurred to him to leave Dickson or get a smaller shop,” Bob Walker said. “Dickson Street, the Flying Possum, his dog, his craft, that was his persona. It didn’t have to make sense business wise. It was who he was.”

Bugsy, Bruce Walker's DogBruce Walker was a hard person to describe, said Bil Jett, a long time friend who also worked on Dickson Street. “He was easy going for the most part, but if you ever made an enemy of him, by God he never forgot it.”

After Bruce Walker’s dog Bugsy was rescued from the fire, Jett was one of many Fayetteville residents vying to give him a home.

“I just felt it was the right thing to do, one way I could honor Bruce,” he said. “I’d known Bugsy since he was a baby, and knew he was a really good dog.”

Jett doesn’t have any problem with a bar replacing Flying Possum Leather. “To be honest, I didn’t think they could replace Bruce in there anyway.”

*   *   *

Support poured out for Bruce Walker’s family following the accident.

“We had pages of people who sign up, and dozens of people who showed up [to help clean],” Bob Walker said. “It’s hard to name a few people, there were so many who gave so much.”

The people of Fayetteville have been the silver lining of the ordeal, Bob Walker said, describing it as a humbling experience. “[Bruce] would be blown away.”

Grown men have came up to Bob Walker, telling him stories of how they came to Fayetteville as freshmen, a little bit scared and a little bit homesick. They would walk into the Flying Possum, and leave two or three hours later feeling like they’re more at home.

Four nights after the fire, 20 bands had signed up to play at a memorial service for Bruce Walker at George’s Majestic Lounge, across the street. The owner, a long time friend of Bruce, plans to make it annual event and donate the proceeds to non-profits that support things Bruce believed in like Springfest, a music and food festival held on Dickson Street each year, Bob Walker said.

The owner of George’s Majestic Lounge could not be reached for comment.

If plans come together with his partners, Bob Walker said he is almost certain they will be successful. However he will not proceed without the right partners, showing a bit of the frank spirit for which his brother was known.

“Bruce was a person who would tell you what [was on his mind],” Bob Walker said. “He was no shrinking violet.”

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One response to “Flying Possum Legacy Lives On, Transforms

  1. Bret Schulte says:

    This strikes me as odd. The building HAS seen better days. It’s the charred remains of what used to be Flying Possum. Acknowledge that rather than try to build mystery out of it.
    –The building at 526 West Dickson St. in Fayetteville looked like it had seen better days. The damaged and worn wooden shakes on the awning and bare brick face above look out of sync with the neighboring Mediterranean grill and sushi restaurant adorned with neon signs and bright white paint.

    I think present tense would work better here:
    –But now the space was starting to show new life; the glass has been replaced in the large front windows and quickly decorated with flyers for local concerts and events.

    is there a better way to illustrate that this building is being restored? A scene that shows construction workers remodeling the place?

    This isn’t where the tension is. Condense or scrap this slow build-up to the part of the story that tell us the previous owner died. Spend your time and space on how it’s being rebuilt and what it’s like for the new owner to replace someone of Bruce’s magnitude.

    –Yet two sheets of plywood covering the former doors, filled with messages written in black, silver, red or whatever color marker passerby had on hand, garner more attention than any of the bright flyers in the windows.

    “Bruce, you will always be a true legend to Dickson,” one weathered inscription reads. Hundreds have stopped by the boarded door to write their condolences.
    “I miss you Bruce! Put in a good word for me!”

    “Thanks for being a good friend!”

    “RIP Bruce. I will miss you. Dickson will never be the same.”

    maybe you can open with something about how these epigraphs are being removed. use the these plywood boards as a symbol. They’re being taken down right? And they’re filled with inscriptions and graffitied eulogies for Bruce? That’s a metaphor for the whole building.

    Not a great quote. Just paraphrase what he had hoped to do.
    –I had hoped to continue the leather shop,” Bob Walker said. He had been in talks with one of Bruce Walker’s former employees, but the money wasn’t there to continue the venture.

    Ok. Tell us what he’s waiting for. What happens next week?
    –Next week, Bob Walker will find out if his next venture will become a reality: Flying Possum Saloon.

    The bar would be open by January at the earliest, Bob Walker said.

    Wait, you need to go back further. Where were they born? Then a touch about their childhoods. Were they close? Does leatherworking fit into their childhoods somehow? And that one brother ended up in California and the other somewhere else. Then you can get to this California thing, but you need to tighten his storytelling. Paraphrase. Use choice sentences from him. And make it clear the “He” is Bruce.
    –“When he came to [visit me in] California, boy he was wide eyed,” said Bob Walker. In his late 20s at the time, Bob Walker worked as a custom shoe and boot maker in downtown Chico, Calif., and was the first vendor in Chico to sell Birkenstock sandals. “[He] thought what I was doing out there was cool. …He looked up to me.”

    Why “at the time?”
    –U.S. Forest Service at the time.

    This doesn’t belong attached to the rest of the sentence:
    –“He had already made up his mind that he was going to expand,” Bob Walker said, although times weren’t always easy for Bruce Walker financially.

    Condense:
    –year later, the owners of Nelson Leather Co. took advantage of an opening and moved their business to Eureka Springs. Bruce Walker leased the space and in 1975, the 35-year reign of Flying Possum Leather began.

    When he first opened, half of the unit was split with a jewelry story. He leased the entire unit as soon as the jewelers moved out, despite the jump in rent to quadruple his former rate.

    “He had already made up his mind that he was going to expand,” Bob Walker said, although times weren’t always easy for Bruce Walker financially. He was often “dancing to the right and dancing to the left” to maintain his finances, “but it never occurred to him to leave Dickson or get a smaller shop,” Bob Walker said. “Dickson Street, the Flying Possum, his dog, his craft, that was his persona. It didn’t have to make sense business wise. It was who he was.”

    good quote:
    –Bruce Walker was a hard person to describe, said Bil Jett, a long time friend who also worked on Dickson Street. “He was easy going for the most part, but if you ever made an enemy of him, by God he never forgot it.”

    Another good quote:
    –Jett doesn’t have any problem with a bar replacing Flying Possum Leather. “To be honest, I didn’t think they could replace Bruce in there anyway.”

    Good job getting the sources you did. This story has a lot of potential. but it needs work. Focus more on the process of the rebuilding of the bar. Tell us where it stands now. Can you get inside and show us what it’s like in there? Give us the mood?

    You do a good job of using interviews, and the epigraphs, to illustrate Bruce’s significance to the community, but we also need to know more about what’s happening now, the news. As well as what it’s been like for his brother to take over his brother’s space, and in some ways, identity on Dickson street. This would be better shown, than told. is he working on remodeling the place himself? What compelled him to leave California for Fayetteville? What did he leave behind? What was he doing there? Were he and Bruce close? Have Bruce’s old friends become his new friends? Etc.

    This is a good story. And one that you should publish in the Traveler once you get the final word on the building’s fate.

    I look forward to reading your revision.

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